A call to action for everyone of the 5.5 million people living with HIV

Written by Health-e News

An HIV activist since testing HIV positive eleven years ago Pholokgolo Ramothwala has written an open letter urging all those living with the disease to assist in reducing stigma and the number of new infections.

Dear All

Cc: The rest of the country.

My name is Pholokgolo and I am person who has been living with HIV for the past 11 years or so. I am writing this letter to you because I have been having sleepless nights about a few things related to us, people living with HIV. I must say, it is difficult for me to write to someone I have not met or spoken to. Mainly because I don’€™t know what your thoughts are about my issues. However, if there is one thing I am sure of about you and me is that we are all living with the same virus. The same virus that is disrupting our lives, our families and our future.

You see, since the day I found out that I have HIV I vowed to myself that I am going to find as many people who are living with HIV as I can. I didn’€™t and still don’€™t want to be alone in this fight. I needed to see more of us. That is why I dedicated the past 11 years of my life to searching for ‘€˜the others’€™. Now I am at a point where my mind and body are tired. The virus is not only growing in my body, it is still infecting many more people. I need reinforcement. And you are the re-enforcement that is needed to change the face of this virus.

I am bothered that despite this country having over 5 million people living with HIV or AIDS, many of us are silently dealing with this virus. Some of us suspect that we might be positive but we don’€™t do anything until is it too late. Our country has the biggest ARV programme in the world, but many of us die senselessly every day.

Let me try to explain it this way. Every day over a thousand South Africans get infected with HIV. It in a year there are over three hundred thousand people who get infected with HIV. And all these people will get HIV from someone who is infected already. Remember a person can never get HIV from a person who does not have it.

I can’€™t help it but think that if this numbers were statistics for new jobs created this year, President Zuma and his cabinet will be looking forward be achieving their target of creating half a million jobs. But this is not a number to be proud of. HIV is increasing the burden to our families, economy and the state. That is why I believe we have an obligation to defeat this virus by preventing new infections while looking after ourselves.

Though government support is not perfect, I sincerely believe that there is help for you out there. Sometimes it will be hard because the world will seem to be on your shoulders. But if you don’€™t try to go ask for help, how will you know that it is there. Our government has committed itself to providing treatment, care and support to 80% of us by the end of the year 2011. That is not going to happen if most of us have gone into hiding. Imagine all of us coming out to get treatment and support. Not only will our lives be saved, but the government will have no reason to create excuses when it comes to planning for us.

Just imagine this; if we were all to come out, do you think there will still be any person who thinks we don’€™t exist. Will anyone (including employers) have the guts to challenge us by discriminating against one of us? How many families do you think will appreciate having their loved one around a lot longer? Our children will grow in front of us. Is that too much to wish for? I don’€™t think so.

At the moment people are making decisions and speaking on our behalf. They claim to know what we want and how we feel. Their help is important, but I believe we know a lot better about living with HIV than any expert. Unfortunately they will continue to speak on our behalf because we are silent.

Go out there and do something positive about HIV. Prevent stigma and discrimination. And more importantly help to stop new infections. There is too many of us already.  

About the author

Health-e News

Health-e News is South Africa's dedicated health news service and home to OurHealth citizen journalism. Follow us on Twitter @HealtheNews

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